EMDR is a relatively newer therapy, first developed in 1987. Since then, many studies have shown that EMDR is effective at reducing the negative emotions associated with traumatic memories. EMDR therapy sounds bizarre at first—it’s a type of therapy where patients recall traumatic events while simultaneously moving their eyes back and forth. Using Bilateral Stimulation (BLS), people learn to reprocess and become desensitized to their trauma through exposure therapy, which is paired with eye movements. While recalling a traumatic memory, your therapist will guide you in moving your eyes from left to right. This will be prompted by a tap on either knee, a finger moving from one side to the other, or a noise on either side of you. The idea is that you’re stimulating eye movement. At the same time, you recall a memory that caused trauma. Your therapist will help you challenge the negative long-held beliefs that you have about the incident. For example:
By reprocessing the memory, you can change the way you think about it. This challenges your negative beliefs and reframes them more positively. The idea is that, after enough sessions, recalling the memory will no longer cause distress. You become desensitized to it through repeated exposure and reprocessing. So, how do eye movements help you process trauma? There are a few theories. One is that these eye movements mimic what we do during REM sleep, a stage where your brain processes memories from the day. By moving your eyes as you recall the memory, you’re helping your brain reprocess it. It can also serve as a distraction from the disturbing imagery that the memory may bring up.
EMDR is a safe and effective treatment. Even so, it’s distressing for people to recall their traumatic memories. If your emotions become too overwhelming during your treatment, your therapist will help you calm down. This can be done through deep breathing, visualization techniques, and meditation.
Yes. If you’re more comfortable at home, your EMDR therapy session can be done entirely online.